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Maia Pearson brings a wealth of life and educational experience to her new position as Mann Scholars program coordinator


From growing up on Madison’s southside to graduating from UW-Madison and becoming the vice president of the Madison Metropolitan School District school board, Maia Pearson is no stranger to the academic landscape and the needs of students in Madison. Recently, Pearson was hired to take on a new role as the Mann Scholar program coordinator for the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund, a scholarship fund that focuses on providing prolonged and focused support and resources to high school students in need of a little extra help that honors the late Bernard and Kathlyn Mann who made efforts to do the same in their life. Pearson’s role as program coordinator is aided by both professional and personal experience as she has long been familiar with both the work and the people involved in the program.      

Bernard & Kathlyn Mann

“I heard about the Mann Scholars when I was a kid,” recalled Pearson. “I am friends with the oldest daughter of Lori Mann Carey (daughter of Bernard and Kathlyn Mann who supported the Mann Fund for decades, most recently as co-chair, before passing away in November of 2020), and I’ve known the Mann family and Carey family for many years, so I already knew what the scholarship fund was about. I have also known the work done by the Mann family in Madison for young students of color, and more specifically, just students who don’t necessarily have the resources to access many different areas of education. Then this job was recommended to me by someone, and it definitely aligns with the work I have already been doing around youth and education. I was really excited to apply and really excited to join the team.”

Pearson’s own experience through her educational journey helps inform her work and serves as a personal connection to its importance. Pearson, who attended schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District as a kid, spoke about how education was pushed by her family, eventually leading to her graduation from UW-Madison as a first-generation college student with a degree in international/global studies. Historically, quality education has been barred or difficult to impossible to attain for under-resourced Black students hoping to work for opportunity and growth. While lack of access has caused a hunger to push for education, it can also cause a divestment from students who may not feel rewarded or supported in their educational journey. This is where the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund comes in to help students and families both inside the schools and outside the schools.   

Maia Pearson

“I’ve had people around me who were able to assist even though we may not have had the knowledge of how to maneuver the system,” Pearson said. “For me, I’m really blessed and thankful for those who have helped a lot…In this position, I thought it was a really great fit for me to use what I’ve learned and help families navigate that as well. One thing that I’ve always admired about this scholarship fund in particular, is that a lot of scholarships require you to wait until you graduate from high school to utilize them for college. A lot of scholarships are very specific in what you can use the funds for, for their own reasons. However, I think that this one is a little different.”

Maia Pearson succeeds Amy Wallace, the longtime Mann Scholars program coordinator, who had worked with hundreds of students over more than two decades. By providing students with resources across areas that affect their ability to seek success in education, the Mann Scholars program is unique in the support it provides and the potential it gives to students. Pearson insisted that this unique aspect collides with another important piece of providing students with quality support, which is genuinely caring for the students as people and cultivating the passion of helping others.  

“It’s always about passing the torch,” said Pearson. “I really believe in that. We aspire to be like those who have helped us and find a way. That’s what humanity is, and that’s what love is. Paving forward the way that others have paved for us. Keeping that cyclical motion going, because that’s how a lot of us are here. We’ve arrived here, where we are now because so many people have paved the way for us.”

The Mann Scholars Program celebrates at a recent Mann Scholars Celebration at Tenny Park.
(Photo by David Dahmer)

During a time when many are quick to criticize the conditions of public schools and the people within them, it is important to remember external factors unique to the present that can have a large impact on students’ performance and behavior. The Mann Scholarship stands as proof of how impactful lasting and meaningful support can be as the program currently boasts a 100% graduation rate for its students. Having dedicated people in positions to help is critical to the sustained success of these programs in helping young people, and for Pearson, that starts with making those authentic connections.   

“I’m really impressed with this generation of young people,” Pearson said. “They may not have it all figured out, but I think just having unconditional support and them knowing that they have your support, I think to me, is one of the most salient things. Knowing that you value who they are, you value their experiences, you hear them, you listen to them, and ultimately, I’d go back to the love for them. Have the expectations for them, but not just here’s the expectation I have for you, but anything you need for support, I’m here for you. I don’t think we get that enough in our society.”

As more students graduate high school and move into a changing economy and society, the question of what the future holds can be challenging and intimidating for young adults looking to get a start in the world. This is especially prominent in the minds of students who may already be assisting or solely handling responsibilities to support both themselves and often, their families. Pearson reflected on how these aspects are important to consider, and providing lasting support even past the high school years ensures that those students have access to opportunities and resources that can provide a path to better days. 

“For me, if they choose not to go to a four-year college or they go to college, want to do an apprenticeship, want to do some other start-up business, or have other goals that might not be ‘the traditional education track,’ we want them to meet that with a level of success,” Pearson says. “They meet that with a level of understanding and being able to be confident. I would say, for me, that’s the measure…It’s really them who are doing the work. It’s just me as a support person, and really trying to uplift them as much as possible. One thing that I appreciate about this work is that it’s not only a student focus, it’s also the family.”

What might be most hopeful is seeing scholars who have moved through the program and turn back to provide support or engagement with the program to the benefit of current students. In that way, the Mann Scholars program goes well beyond high school and it creates a giant Mann family. Such commitment and passion for the cause is what motivates Pearson, and what provides her with the hope that the mission can continue as she does her part in that pursuit as the new program coordinator for the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund.

To learn more about the Mann Educational Opportunity Fund, visit their website here